Coloring Outside The LinesAugust 14, 2011
I remember back in 2005. The Baobab Home had only been in operation a few months and we were asked to help some children- I think they were 5 or 6 years old. I wondered if this was a good idea since our stated goals were helping children age 0 to 3. It’s hard not to laugh at this now, almost 7 years later. I wonder where we would be as a family if we’d maintained our boundaries? Probably a bit saner and not nearly as rich in love and experience.
In March, two of our older guys- former street boys-now young men who work for us, each reached a breaking point. Drinking had begun to do damage to their lives. Where did our responsibility to these guys end? We had loved them for years, but they were grown men now. We struggled as a family with it. I talked to the other former street boys and then I took them each by the ear to Dar es Salaam and introduced them to AA and ultimatums. Within 24 hours they were each in a “sober house” in Zanzibar learning “the program”. We were all a little scared that first day. The houses are stark, with only plastic chairs and a lot of men in various states of heroin detox. Food was basic at best. This was no Betty Ford. A month later I went to visit them and found their Swahili now peppered by 12 step phrases in English. They had made some deep friendships and were genuinely happy. They said that they had entered the house to please me, but they were staying for themselves. I could already see incredible changes in both of them. Now, 5 months later, seeing these guys, not just ‘get ahead a bit’ but dig up their lives from the roots and replant has been one of the most extraordinary privileges I’ve had here, and I’ve had so very many. The ripple effects on the whole Baobab family have been extraordinary. They lead our morning feelings/workshift meeting and they attend weekly AA meetings. In our small town nobody had ever heard of AA before so this is revolutionary and they are sharing their success with friends. They are committed at a totally new level to life on the Baobab farm. They are truly invested in our family life and it shows.
In July we had several volunteers. I was concerned that one of them did not have enough to do. I went to my dear friend Halima, age 63, pos, grandmother to half the town, former gun runner during the war with Uganda, tough as nails and soft as a pillow. I explained my problem. I was looking for a child in the community with a tough medical problem who would likely get better care if accompanied by a mzungu who could probe the issue and get extra tests done. I said “who doya got?” She didn’t know of any kids right now but took me two doors down to see her neighbor, Maua. She’s a beautiful woman in her mid 50s who has been sitting at home for three years due to blindness. She explained to me that a doctor from the city had prescribed her some vitamins a few years ago that seemed to increase her ability to see light, but that was it. Could we get more vitamins for her? I was not hopeful. I knew it wouldn’t be much money to take her but I worried that we were giving a woman hope where there was none. A few days later volunteer Melissa B from Canada took Maua in to the eye doctor right down the road. Cataracts. That was it. Really thick cataracts. Three years of solitude and resignation with no resources to probe the issue further. Two weeks later, Mugin took Maua to have her first eye operated on. For about $100 of Melissa’s donation money, which included travel and food, Maua can see out of one eye. In a few weeks she’ll have the other eye done, also courtesy of Melissa. Halima and I have been calling each other on the phone throughout the process high fiving each other.
There is no guidebook to this job and I know I make a lot of mistakes. I’m just so grateful when the universe gives me such clear signs. Thank you all so much for your support.